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Bruins brain trust focused on future

Jacobs, Neely believe in Sweeney's blueprint for success

by Matt Kalman / Correspondent

BOSTON -- For the second straight season, the Boston Bruins did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs believes the organization is on the right path.

Jacobs and Bruins president Cam Neely each acknowledged during a press conference at TD Garden on Wednesday that when they hired Don Sweeney to replace Peter Chiarelli as general manager last May, Sweeney warned there could be tough times in the immediate future.

"It was hurtful for this year, no doubt about it," Jacobs said.

Chiarelli, now president of hockey operations and GM of the Edmonton Oilers, produced seven trips to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup in 2011during his tenure in Boston. But the signings of several players with bonus-heavy contracts, combined with drafts that did not produce NHL-caliber talent, limited the Bruins' roster maneuverability because of penalties against the League's salary cap in 2014-15.

The Bruins, who lost in the Eastern Conference Second Round in 2014 despite being the top seed, weren't able to retain forward Jarome Iginla, whom they had signed before the 2013-14 season, and eventually missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

The promotion of Sweeney from assistant to GM led to the Bruins moving to what Jacobs called "the invest mode."

"[That's] looking at where your draft picks are, how they've evolved, whether they've been successful or not," Jacobs said, "and seeing that you're moving that next generation into your game so that when you have cap issues, as we have had, that you're not forced into the position that we've been put into … by having to make some serious changes with regard to the personnel that you have and the characters you have on your team."

Sweeney alleviated many of the Bruins' cap issues by trading forward Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings and restricted free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames, getting draft picks and prospects in return. However, the Bruins' 42-31-9 record left them one point shy of the postseason. They finished 3-8-1 and tumbled out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

"We should be playing right now," Neely said. "We should have locked up the third seed and who knows? But that didn't happen, and we're all extremely disappointed the way the season ended. 

"But having said that, [Sweeney's] plan was not a one-offseason fix. We know what our goals are, we know what we need to improve and we're taking the necessary steps to continue to do that. So from my perspective, we were told by Don, 'it's going to be a bumpy road,' we should see some improvement along the way, and for the most part we had that."

Last week, Sweeney announced coach Claude Julien would return, and Neely has faith Sweeney, his former Bruins teammate, can make the personnel decisions necessary so Boston can move forward. Neely made it clear priority No. 1 is improving a defense that ranked 20th in goals allowed (2.78 per game).

As for Jacobs, his faith in Neely has not been diminished.

"My decision is hiring Cam and seeing that he has the ability to perform and provide an environment for him to perform in," Jacobs said. "He's my leader right now and I ride with him."

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